Want A Players? Here’s The One Interview Question You Need to Ask

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Dec 13, 2013

Finding B+ players is pretty easy. Finding your A players, isn’t.

You see, job interviews are a bit like eating a bowl of salad: they’ll fill you up, but you’ll be starving again in about three minutes.

The point is, nine times out of 10, hiring managers never really get what they need out of an interview, because they never actually ask the most important question.

Everybody seems to think they should be conforming to all sorts of interview templates, asking questions like “did you ever do x, y and z at your previous employer?” (instead of the far more insightful “how would you do x, y, and z here, now, for us?”), and ridiculous puzzles like “how would you calculate the height of a building using nothing but a thermometer and a stopwatch?” (Actually, that’s a pretty cool question to ask someone, if I’m honest.)

The brilliant but lazy complex

Determining whether somebody can do a set of tasks doesn’t mean much if they’re brilliant but lazy. So there’s really just one question you need to ask to make sure they’re the A players you’re looking for.

The first thing is to establish what we really mean when we talk about A players as opposed to, say, B+ players.

Fortunately, the answer is simple: B and B+ players are either intelligent but lazy, or just of average smarts but ravenously hungry; they are not both staggeringly brilliant and tormented by that insatiable hunger for success. They aren’t in a perpetual state of frenzied creativity, literally forgetting to eat, sleep, or have sex.

Not that failure to do those things is good, mind you, but merely that they are a necessary consequence of being maddeningly motivated, hungry employees or, for that matter, co-founders. And those are your A players. Staggeringly brilliant, inexorably driven to succeed.

So, what’s the question?

So, what single, simple question can possibly determine whether you’ve found an A player or merely a B player?

“Are you willing to work nights and weekends to get an assignment done on time?”

That’s it. Simple. Blunt. To the point. But most importantly, it’s fail safe future proofing against any sort of cultural clash or missed expectations.

The only real chance you’ll ever get to make sure an employee is a good fit for your company culture, and whether they’re willing to do anything and everything it takes to succeed, is to make sure they are compatible with your work ethic, that they share your passionate drive to succeed, that they’re starving for that success, and that they won’t stop until they’re done.

Joking aside, this isn’t to say that a healthy work-life balance isn’t in order. After all, if health fails, work failure is not far behind.

But if there isn’t the same burning hunger to succeed, and that hunger isn’t infectious and doesn’t spread throughout the entire team, including and especially new hires, then that less driven employee will at best be a dead weight on the team, and worse, like a rotten apple in a fruit bowl, slowly, inexorably poisoning rather than invigorating those around them.

Be upfront with no room for interpretation

So think about it. It’s a simple, single question, it leaves no room for interpretation, and this is really the only chance for you to score a win-win. If they answer disingenuously, then you have grounds to reprimand them later, but if it turns out they’ve answered truthfully, you’ll soon discover you’ve got a keeper.

And the greatest feeling after hiring someone truly phenomenal is that fear that slowly dawns over you that you almost didn’t hire them.

That’s the thrill of hiring A players.